Bridges, Ruby (c. 1954—)
Bridges, Ruby (c. 1954—)
African-American who was one of four black children chosen to integrate the New Orleans public school system in 1960. Name variations: Ruby Bridges Hall. Born Ruby Bridges in Tylerton, Mississippi, around 1954; oldest of eight children of Abon (a gas station attendant) and Lucile Bridges (a day-care provider and cleaning woman); married Malcolm Hall (a building contractor); children: four sons.
On a November morning in 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges, accompanied by U.S. federal marshals, made her way to the New Orleans' William Frantz Elementary School for her first day of first grade. Amid jeers from an angry white mob, Bridges, with a bow in her hair and carrying a lunch box, walked unwittingly into history. "I thought it was Mardi Gras," she would later say of that morning, "I had no idea it was all about me."
Bridges had been designated by court order as one of four black children—all girls—to integrate the New Orleans public school system. The other three children were sent to McDonogh 19 school, while Bridges alone went to Frantz. Her months-long ordeal was magnified by loneliness, as all of the white children were kept home by their outraged, fearful parents. Bridges' teacher, Barbara Henry , imported from Boston because none of Frantz's faculty would teach a black student, was amazed at the child's poise under pressure and her sense of purpose. "She enjoyed her time there," she said. "She didn't seem nervous or anxious or irritable or scared. She seemed as normal and relaxed as any child I've ever taught." It was only at the end of the year that Bridges was joined by two white boys in her classroom. By the time she reached the sixth grade and left Frantz, half the students were black. By the close of the 20th century, the school was entirely black.
Bridges, one of eight children, would continue an uphill struggle. Her parents, who had volunteered her as a candidate to integrate the city's schools, split up when she was 12. By 17, she was pregnant and forced to finish her education at a school for expectant mothers. It was only after her marriage four years later, and the start of a career as a travel agent, that her life began to turn around, and only in the 1990s that she found meaning in her history-making childhood experience. "You just can't let that die," she says. "It happened for a reason."
The mother of four boys, Bridges established the Ruby Bridges Educational Foundation in 1994 to encourage parental involvement in schools. Much of the funding for the project came from Robert Coles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard psychiatry professor and author, who, in 1960, had been caught in a traffic jam and witnessed Bridges' first day at Frantz Elementary School. Coles, then an Air Force psychiatrist stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, was so moved by the child's ordeal that he spent the next three years as her counselor and devoted his life's work to aiding children in crisis. Not only did he help secure grants for the foundation, but he also pledged royalties from his children's book The Story of Ruby Bridges to the project. Bridges' experience also became the subject of Norman Rockwell's famous painting The Problem We All Live With, which depicts the little girl on her way into school escorted by four federal marshals. Bridges, who received an honorary degree from Connecticut College in September 1995, became a volunteer parent liaison at the William Frantz Elementary School, where her odyssey had begun over 35 years ago.
Arellano, Christopher. "Conn Pays Tribute to Woman Who Shaped U.S. History," in The Day [New London]. September 1, 1995.
——."Limelight Shines Again on Civil Rights Pioneer," in The Day [New London]. August 31, 1995.
Coles, Robert. The Story of Ruby Bridges. NY: Scholastic, 1995.
Jerome, Richard, and Ron Ridenour. "Keeper of the Flame," in People. December 4, 1995, pp. 104–106.
"Ruby Bridges," starring Chaz Monét, first aired on "The Wonderful World of Disney," ABC-television, January 18, 1998.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts